Note: Dear readers, you may or may not stumble upon inaccuracies pertaining the geography in the story, and maybe even some mistakes in culture and such, but I don't live in Kurdistan and research will only help me to a certain point. So, I apologize in advance.
Having said that, I bet a very small number of you will catch it, but this story is heavily referenced and inspired by the film "Turtles Can Fly", and I choose to make that known because I'm not going to take advantage of the fact that the film is almost invisible in the cinematic world and practically plagiarize it. Yes, I admit the support of my story indeed depends on the film.
"I have trodden the winepress alone;
and of the people there was none with me;
for I will tread them in mine anger,
and trample them in my fury;
and their blood shall me sprinkled upon my garments,
and I will stain all my raiment."
The sun on that August afternoon was harsh, unforgiving, as it beat down violently on the grand expanse of dry land, which was scattered with greenery here and there but for the most part, scarlet dirt occupied the area.
It hadn't rained for well over a month, and already the consequences were showing in the desiccated terrain. Water was growing scarce, the fields were drying up, and the dirt cracked beneath such an overbearing heat. In this land, there contained a small village of Ararat, of no more than twenty families, not minding the orphans or widows. The homes, stacked very closely to one another, were constructed of terrible slumps of brick and built rather hastily upon the arch of the plateau. In a distance, beheld a long, rolling chain of mountains in varying heights, however, before the land sloped into the mountain range, a tall, barbed fence cut off any contact from the range, and about a kilometer away, there was a defensive base stationed along with a watch tower that never slept.
A few feet before the barbed fence, sat a small girl, or rather, small for her age. The twelve-year-old sat by a basket of recently-harvested sugar beets, an improvised knife in her hand that she used to rid them of their roots. On her other side, sat a small baby boy of one and a few months, yanking gently on the printed scarf that she had wrapped over her head to protect her from the sun. The baby gurgled and hummed, his tiny, white fist tugging on her clothing, as though nothing was ever wrong with the world.
Footsteps sounded the dry dirt behind her, and she didn't even turn her head to know who it was, as her ears picked up the sound of a third, short step of a walking stick.
"Come, child, you mustn't sit so close to the fence. Let alone with the baby," came the old, cracked voice of Merdem, one of the village seniors. Still, he lifted his walking stick and allowed the baby sitting in a larger basket to grab hold of it, as it cooed happily. "It's nearly evening and Amud Radio is done mounting the antenna. Let's go see what news is happening. Come now, Sana."
Sana took the basket of sugar beets in one hand and the baby's basket in the other, and followed the village senior wordlessly towards the cluster of abodes. She abandoned the sugar beets by the door of her own home, and instead lifted baby Bijun into her arms and went, off to find the source of multiple voices that could be heard further up the slope.
A small crowd of children, mostly orphans, were circling a tall, metal antenna that had been mounted upon a rusting pole. Amud Radio was among them, a lanky boy of thirteen, with an old cap on his head and with a squinting look in his eyes. He was brown from the sun, and quite skinny beneath the horrid layers of clothing he wore. There was a small radio in his lap that the children were all paying attention to, while he moved the black dial back and forth pensively. Sana watched them from afar.
She wasn't familiar with all of the village children just yet, for having arrived at Ararat merely a month ago from her old village with the baby and her elder brother. Her being painfully shy and independent didn't help matters. Within the crowd, she only recognized little Keyna, a small girl three years her junior, who had been orphaned since a baby, according to her story.
Little Keyna had looked up from the radio just then, her impossibly black eyes sweeping over the distance until they met Sana's figure afar. She waved her short arms in the air, calling out in her childishly girl tone, "Sana! Sana! Come and listen!"
The rest of the children were so immersed in the dial that they barely paid mind when Sana trudged up the slope with Bijun and joined their circle beside Keyna. Amud Radio stopped touching the dial when a voice began leaving the box, rushed and with slight static to it.
"It's in Turkish," said a little boy over Amud's shoulder, who huffed in impatience.
"I don't suppose any of you understand Turkish?" asked Amud dejectedly, "Maybe one of the village seniors does..."
The brood looked at one another, although no one claimed to understand the Turkish language.
"Do you think that if we turn the antenna the other way, the news will come out in Persian?" asked the same little boy who had made the first claim.
"Your questions are all too stupid to have answers, Simku," said Amud, getting up and dusting himself off, "Nihad, go bring a village elder. I hope someone can help."
A boy who could have only been Nihad took off quickly, although he moved with a severe limp in one of his awkwardly bent legs, which hassled his pace considerably. Even so, he had looked quite eager to oblige to the request. He hobbled all down the slope with Sana watching his deformity closely.
Keyna, who had been playing with the baby in her arms and poking his round cheeks, spoke lowly to her, "He used to work with cave mines before coming here. I think someone messed up and the whole thing exploded. The land caved in on his leg." Sana merely listened, decidedly not having a comment to offer.
By the time Nihad returned with Merdem in tow, Amud had gotten impatient with fiddling with the radio, and instead took to examining the newest tribe member and the small baby squirming in her arms, squinting at her uncertainly. She pretended she hadn't noticed his curious gaze.
"What's the problem, Radio?" asked Merdem, clasping his aged hands behind his back as he peered unto the box on the ground.
"I got it to work, but the news is coming in in Turkish. I was wondering if you knew a bit of it," Amud said, holding the radio up.
Merdem grunted and firmly shoved at the boy's head in annoyance. "What do I look like? You're the one who is always tinkering with things of the sort. If anyone in this village knows Turkish, it's you."
Amud rubbed his head and groaned, "I don't! I know I've installed antennas and radios before in other villages, but that doesn't mean I know what the radio says."
"Try to understand. We depend on you to learn news about the war."
"How can I? There isn't anything to go by, like pictures, for example," Amud said, an undertone in his voice and a clearly feigning look of innocence in his narrow eyes.
Merdem went in for another shove to his head but the boy dodged him. "You keep trying to persuade me to buy a television, devious boy." He turned his back and began down the slope again, grumbling, only to have Amud run after him as quickly as a bolt, most likely to insist about the television.
The children left behind began to scatter in separate directions, slightly lost looks on their small faces. Sana left with Keyna at her side, the younger girl skipping and jogging towards the cluster of homes. The sun was considerably less intense now that the day was seeping into early evening, the sky darkening ever-so-slightly.
"Radio mounts antennas and radios in many villages," Keyna said in a sing-song voice, "He's a bit famous. That's why we call him Amud Radio. And because he doesn't have a last name."
Sana barely looked at the ruddy-skinned little girl as she murmured, "Everyone has a last name."
Keyna skidded to a halt at the end of the slope, nearly tripping over her own feet when she turned around. "But Amud Radio doesn't. His parents died when he was a little baby."
"So did yours," said Sana evenly, "Your last name is still Sihabeddin."
And Keyna wore it proudly, too. She might not have remembered her parents, but it was all she would talk about upon her first meeting Sana. It had been an unbearably hot day, Sana recalled, as it was a wonder that Keyna's throat hadn't parched from all her talking about her pioneer mother and father, although Sana wasn't very sure of how much of the tale to believe.
The dark-haired girl quieted, obviously thinking this over with a finger twirled in her locks. After a pensive moment, she confessed, "You're right. I wonder why Amud doesn't have a real last name." As they began to approach the brick cluster of cottages, Keyna looked up at the elder girl and asked, "What's yours?"
"Sana Yilmaz, Jir Yilmaz, and baby Bijun Yilmaz," sang Keyna quietly, "Can I carry the baby?"
Setting the child into Keyna's waiting and protective arms, the two girls found one of the border brick homes, where Sana had set the basket of sugar beets in front of. Inside, there was fire set beside some heavy-bottomed pots, a few half-mended baskets sitting in a corner, a bundle of clothing, and a few blankets spread out on the ground for sleeping. It was a better condition than the old, torn tent that Sana and the other village children used to all sleep in together, back at her old village up north. At least now she had a place to call her own.
Bijun was placed onto his bundled feet, although he was more content with plopping down and yanking at the end of Keyna's shawl, to which the girl obliged to and sat down to play with him. Their childish voices filled the abode from an otherwise deathly silence, and their high laughter was a sound of pure mirth that Sana hadn't heard in a very long time.
Sana didn't mind the two, and instead began to cook by the fire set. She transferred water she had fetched earlier that morning from a jar into a pot, set the fire crackling, and placed it over the jumpy orange flames. She washed the rice in a separate clay bowl and set the tea for brewing, working evenly and with talented hands.
Keyna had left some time afterward, to where Sana wasn't sure, leaving Bijun to occupy himself with the unwoven baskets in the corner. The small girl had moved like a shadow, out of the doorway without a hum, and it had been until Sana realized Keyna's voice was absent that she noticed that she had completely disappeared and Bijun was playing by himself.
Come sundown, and the scent of cooked rice wafted gently around the abode, along with the stronger scent of tea. Cucumbers were chopped and set as well, mixed into the rice. A figure stopped at the doorway, carefully removing his shoes before entering, as a halo of setting sunlight burst behind him brightly.
"Smells nice," was what the fourteen-year-old boy always said upon returning home every evening to eat, and that day was no different.
He was a strong boy, not very tall but wide in the shoulders and with thick arms and legs. His skin was slightly tanned from the sun, although his light hair and hazel eyes were more pronounced because of it, just alike his sister's. He had a thin face and straight features, low brows and a squared jaw; a handsome boy, although his shut expression did him no justice.
Jir brought Bijun into his lap when he sat down across the fire set from Sana, taking to feeding himself and the toddler both. Sana watched as her brother held the baby in his lap with his disfigured arm, an arm that turned into a stump at the elbow, pulling Bijun closely as he used his only able hand to dig into the pot of food. It was still strange and ugly to her, not in appearance but in worth, even after so many days of living and sleeping beside it. Jir noticed her stares mid-meal and grunted in warning - she knew well that he didn't like her glower, but she wasn't sure how to accustom herself to it. The deformity shouted at her eyes, demanded her attention. Still, she tore her gaze away and focused on the meal silently.
Once the pot was swiped clean of food, Jir spoke, "The day was dim. This drought hasn't lasted too long and it is already causing damage. Dilsad's goats are eating up what little wheat is left on the fields, and their throats are dry. He's been upset over it, but I've assured him it'll rain in three days."
"You're sure of it," said Sana, more of a comment than a question.
"This morning, one of the elders came back from the town. He said clouds were rolling in."
This claim was met with silence, although Bijun, as though understanding, clapped his small hands together and gurgled. Jir placed an affectionate kiss on the toddler's head, within the dark golden curls that lied there, and then looked up at Sana. She tried not to shiver.
He exhaled lowly. "The soles of my shoes are tearing. I've thought of going to town in a few days with Merdem, however... I don't think I will."
Sana examined her brother more closely now, brows lowered and haunted. "Go, Jir. Go mend your shoes."
"I won't," he said more firmly, "I'll send them with Merdem to take care of them for me."
"You'll be without shoes for the meantime?" questioned Sana, almost glowering.
His hard, mature gaze met hers in an opposing way. "I'll be without shoes, then. If I go to town, I won't be back in the same day. I promised that I shall never leave you."
She was silenced, more by his adult eyes than by his words. Those eyes were so strong that she had no choice but to succumb to them. Wordlessly, she lifted the dirty pot and took it to wash in reused water that had been boiled, offering herself something to be occupied with.
Her brother was hard-headed, she knew, but that fact still upset her. She didn't want to be a hindrance to anyone, much less to someone as busy and independent as Jir, and prevent him from getting his objectives done. He had been marked by the event that changed their lives forever, back in their old village, in more ways that one, and that was obvious in his reluctance to leave Sana by her lonesome. And that knowledge hurt her more than anything else, especially after she put Bijun to sleep beside her on the roof, where it was nice and cool at night, and could hear her brother's deep breathing on the other side.
End Note: Please, if you find any error, be it of any degree, feel free to let me know. Also, constructive criticism is very welcome, as they help me advance in my writing. So, please do not hesitate to include them in a review or message.
Thank you for reading the first chapter, however short and unappealing as it was!